Firework fear – it may be more common than you think!
As much as we enjoy watching fireworks and screaming at the loud bangs that follow sadly for many this can mean a time of upset and anxiety. In some areas firework night is not just a one-night affair anymore, it can start a few weeks before and continue right up until the New Year celebrations.
A 2013 PDSA online survey reported that 61% of UK owners say their pets are scared of fireworks, I however feel this is probably more. So what does this mean for us pet owners and what can we do if we have a pet that is frightened?
It is understandable that cats and dogs struggle with fireworks. Loud bangs and flashes suddenly going off unexpectantly around them in their normal safe environment.It is only natural that our pets may show a mild reaction to the noises however sometimes the reaction can be severe and can put our pet at risk of injury. Dogs will often pant excessively, shake, hide away, bark and can mess the house at worst some dogs may destruct their immediate environment almost trying to dig themselves free. Cats will often hide, become withdrawn, urinate in the house and over groom.
There are things we can do to help, before the night, on the night and after the firework season.
Before the night: Ideally this should be a few weeks before the first anticipated display. The most important thing is to provide a safe place for them that gives them somewhere to hide – Think of a child’s camp/den. Make it in a familiar room that they feel safe in. Crates can be ideal in this situation however only if they are used to these as many can be over used and the dog sees it as somewhere it goes as a punishment. For people that don’t have a crate think outside the box, can you clear out your under stairs cupboard, can you move the sofa forward so they can get behind? It needs to be big enough for them to be able to stand, turn around, stretch and lay down. Use lots of towels, blankets and clothes that smell familiar. If you can’t provide a den then their normal bedding area is fine but bulk it out a bit. Let them have access to this area at all times before the night and provide lots of positive things here so toys, activity feeders, chews etc. If it is a place that you can cover then place a blanket on top to help muffle sound. For cats they like to be up high so look around and think where might be suitable? Top of kitchen units, in the wardrobe. Ideally you should provide 1 hiding place per cat + 1 extra.
Start to plan your daily dog walks to be whilst it is still light. This will hopefully avoid any unexpected scenarios where you come across fireworks whilst out walking. Ensure that your microchip details are up to date and that they are wearing an identity tag so that in an event that they do bolt they can be traced back to you quickly
There are a number of calming products/supplements on the market which too can help, I am happy to discuss these with you if you contact me. Sadly for some these products are just not enough and so diazepam can be prescribed, however you would need to get your pet vet checked before they can be dispensed. I often recommend a ‘dummy run’ before the night if using diazepam to check that the dose prescribed has the desired effect.
On the night: Walk your dogs before it gets dark. Try and get your cats in and consider bringing in any rabbits/guinea pigs that may live outside. Once all your animals are in ensure all windows and doors are shut, close the curtains and turn on the TV or play music to muffle out the noise. Try and not leave your pet alone as they like to have familiar people around. One thing that can often be misunderstood is their behaviour and how we should react to this. DO NOT force your pets to come to you especially if they have found a safe place or are in their den. Ignore unusual behaviour like shaking and whining as if we react it can actually be rewarding that behaviour and so they are more likely to continue. Provide lots of distraction with treats, toys and games. Most importantly though is to remember never punish your pet for being scared, as much as we understand whats going on sadly our pets don’t.
After the night: Once all the displays are out of the way you can consider a programme to help you out long term. If left things can get worse and then might spiral into other fears like with thunder/loud bangs. A “sound desensitisation programme” is a good effective way to help our cats and dogs that really suffer at this time. They gradually get your pet used to the sounds that they will be hearing, initially very quietly and getting louder over time. It’s not a quick fix and can take time but can be worth it once you see the benefits, if this is something that you think may help please contact me. Sadly sometimes drugs may be your only answer in severe fear cases but make sure they are used under strict veterinary supervision.
The following links may be useful